Off Track:

Not For Everyone


NOW AND THEN, WHEN I'M LOOKING FOR SOMETHING TO WORRY ABOUT (not that, with three sons and a husband, I don't have enough already), I wonder if the resorts where I like to ski are really pulling in enough customers to sustain themselves. Typically I think about this on non-holiday weekdays, when I ski the outer trails for hours without seeing anyone. Right now you're probably thinking, isn't that what cross country skiing is all about? If we liked congested slopes and long lines and battling for parking spaces, we would've become downhill skiers. As cross country aficionados, we expect to have it all, which means primo groomed tracks and skating lanes without the crowds. I try hard to believe that the grooming fairy is out there every night making the trails perfect for us free of charge, but something tells me the resorts actually need sufficient volumes of skiers to pay for this great service.

We do our part by trying to recruit our friends and relatives whenever possible, though generally they react with stony silence as soon as we mention the words, cross country skiing. When pressed, they tell us it's too much hard work. I still haven't figured out whether they make this assumption because my husband Sinan and I exude that certain aura of physical well-being, which can only be the result of an intense exercise regimen. Either that, or they think we look like complete wrecks, the hapless victims of our own masochistic compulsion.

Oddly enough, these same people generally don't complain about riding a bike, although in a hilly area it can be just as much work as cross country skiing. I suppose that's because biking, unlike skiing, didn't have a no-exercise option when we were growing up, although nowadays there are some ski resorts where, in the summer, the lifts carry bicycles and their riders to mountain summits. The bicyclists can then spend all their time (when not waiting in line) barreling downhill at death-defying speeds. If this trend continues, I expect the other riders who continue to prefer pedaling to the top will be downgraded to a whole different sport, which could be called cross country bicycling. And everyone will say it's too much hard work.

Of course, the other reason our downhill skiing friends don't want to try cross country is that they don't believe it's thrilling enough. They'd just as soon ski flat trails as choose the spinning cups ride over the Materhorn at Disneyland. Skiing, they believe, is all about the adrenaline rush and the near-death experiences. When we tell them that cross country has its own set of risks associated with no metal edges and free heels, their eyes glaze over. They know that our steepest hills resemble their bunnies, and therefore we can never hope to achieve the same gravity-induced velocity.

As for the young people we know, I can't speak for the girls, because I only have sons and even though I was a girl once, my memories no longer bear much resemblance to actual fact. But I can tell you that my sons and their friends—who are also boys because our kids haven't quite passed the ewww, girls stage of their development—look for more in a sport than forward motion within a serene natural setting. I suppose this is why someone invented BMX, a "sport" that takes place, at least initially, on a bike. The first time my oldest tried it at summer camp, his front wheel stopped dead in a pothole and he kept going over the handlebars, landing head first in the dirt. Suddenly, being on a bicycle, which he'd always considered boring, took on a whole new dimension, and BMX catapulted to the top of his long list of favorite sports.

Last winter when Sinan and I took turns skiing, the boys busied themselves building a sledding hill next to our rental cabin. They stomped holes into the track, and made sure it ended in a ditch at the bottom. Mainly they used the trail early in the morning to ensure that the snow was as hard as ice. Still they found the sledding too tame, until they assigned one boy to pelt the others with snowballs as they sped by. Generally they also went two sleds at a time, to knock each other off track whenever they weren't too busy dodging snowballs. Once they had succeeded in transforming the simple act of sledding into a contact sport, they were content.

Which is not to suggest the same thing for cross country skiing. If that's what it takes to attract the younger generation, then frankly, I'd rather the resorts closed and Sinan and I went back to blazing our own trails in the backcountry (not that we ever did that more than once or twice). I suppose, when it comes right down to it, cross country skiing is not for everyone. And that's the way we like it.

Nevertheless, we continue to invite our friends to join us. Now and then, they actually do, and a rare few even become converts.

I just hope it's enough to keep the grooming fairies happy.

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